By Claire Walla
Last week, when an Eastern Box Turtle was discovered crawling through a backyard in Sag Harbor with a 10-penny nail driven through the center of its shell, volunteers at the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons were on the scene.
The terrestrial reptile was brought to The Veterinary Clinic of East Hampton where Dr. Jonathan Turetsky took X-rays showing that the three-inch sliver of metal had pierced the very center of the turtle’s shell and descended through its mid-section, slightly poking through its hard underbelly. After administering the creature pain medication and antibiotics, Dr. Turetsky was able to remove the nail. He used dentil acrylic to patch up the broken bits of shell.
“He’s at the center now, being rehabilitated,” Ricky Greening of the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons said of the turtle. Greening estimated it will probably take two to three weeks for the turtle to heal (though it could be perhaps a couple months), at which point the animal will be returned to the yard where it was found.
The incident has sparked concern that there is someone in the community intentionally causing harm to local wild animals.
Earlier this year, the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons received calls about a seagull in Sag Harbor Village that was wandering around with a blow-dart lodged through its skull. According to Greening, the seagull died last week after having lived for months with the needlelike imposition. The bird was in the process of being transported to a local veterinarian when — probably due to trauma or duress — it died.
Dr. Turetsky wouldn’t speculate as to whether or not the two incidents are related, but he admitted they both seem to be premeditated acts of animal cruelty.
“Clearly, someone put the turtle down and hammered a couple of times,” Dr. Turetsky explained.
How the nail managed to avoid puncturing nerves and vital organs, Dr. Turetsky added, is “a big mystery.” However, it’s unclear how long the nail had actually been embedded in the shell and what harm such an object might have posed further down the line.
While the turtle seemed to be moving fine, in spite of the fact that a foreign object was poking out of its stomach, Dr. Turetsky said it was removed for health reasons. The nail was rusted by the time the turtle got to the East Hampton clinic.
“That’s always a question: could it do more harm taking it out?” Dr. Turetsky added.
In the case of the seagull, it seems tampering with the skittish animal might have expedited the bird’s death.
“But, as far as letting [the turtle] loose,” added Dr. Turetsky, “one of the concerns was that [the nail] was protruding through the bottom of the shell,” which could have proved dangerous for the animal’s mobility.
Roy Gross of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said this was clearly an act of animal cruelty and the SPCA is now investigating the case.
“This will not be tolerated,” he said in an interview this week. “People who do this are capable of hurting people. And they can do it again.”
Gross expressed frustration that the SPCA wasn’t notified of the incident until after both the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons and the vets office were on the case and the turtle was of out of surgery, which he said only makes it more difficult for the organization to conduct its investigation.
So far, the agency has not received any further calls related to this case. And, Gross added, the agency never received any calls about the gull. (He was unaware himself until The Expressbrought the issue to his attention.)
“Could it be related? It could be,” Gross stated. But, he added, even more important than a potential connection between the two Sag Harbor incidents is the implication it holds for humans — an aspect he said many people tend not to consider. “It’s a known fact that people who hurt animals hurt people.“
The SPCA is the only organization in Suffolk County with the sole purpose of investigating acts of animal cruelty, so Gross emphasized the need for such incidents to be reported as soon as possible.
“Even if you don’t think there are any witnesses … please report any suspicion of animal neglect and abuse,” he said. “If it doesn’t get reported, we can’t investigate it. I can’t stress that enough.”
“We really want to see this person apprehended,” Gross continued. “We don’t take this lightly out here.”
The Suffolk County SPCA is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone with information on this incident. Please call Roy Gross at 382-7722. All calls will be kept confidential.